24 April 2009, in the Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre of the State Hermitage Museum the graduation ceremony for blind and visually impaired children who finished the 3-year study course under the Past at the Fingertips programme took place.
The programme was created taking into consideration the specifics of the perception of the surrounding world by blind and visually impaired children. During the classes the children have an opportunity to get familiar with the ancient human history while acting as scientists. The programme is based on the use of archaeological materials which give an opportunity to reconstruct an “image” of a certain epoch. Such specialization is not accidental. It is in archaeology that the objects carry information within and any object can be “seen” with hands by touching it.
One-time introductory classes are intended for the students of the 2nd and the 3rd forms and theмfull 3-year cycle is intended for the 4th, 5th and 6th forms. This age group was determined after 6-months pilot work with the students of the 2nd-11th forms. The students of the 4th form possess sufficient knowledge and life experience required for active participation in the class and are ready to accept quite difficult and diverse information. The topics of the classes are partially synchronized with the school curriculum but they do not exclude but complete it. The first year of the studies is dedicated to the Stone Age, the second year – to the Bronze Epoch, the third year – to the Iron Age and the Middle Ages. Each class is divided into three parts: the “excavations”, theoretical part and creative task. The rotation of the types of activities helps to maintain a certain rhythm of the class and to avoid quick fatigability of the children.
The excavations are conducted in special sandboxes filled with quartz sand that is silky to the touch. ‘Archaeological findings’ are replicas of the items from the Hermitage Museum archaeological collections created specially for the class and differing from the originals only in age. All of the replicas are created following the ancient technologies from the authentic original materials. Each of the epochs presented during the studies is represented not only by a certain set of the labour instruments, crockery and decorations but also by miniature models of archaeological artefacts in the historical landscape designed for tactile sensing (for example, a model of a hut built of mammoth bones found in Kostenky or a model of the Staraya Ladoga Fortress).
Theoretical part of the class is devoted to examining the findings. Active participation in this part develops the ability to accept quite difficult information aurally, logically state and argue in favour of the own point of view and work in team. This part of the class can be supplemented with a slide-film created specially for its content, brightness and contrast to be perceived by the visually impaired children. When needed the slides are simultaneously duplicated by the relief contour images.
Creative task which finishes the class is formulated depending on the topic being studied and includes a role-play element. The children are suggested to act as ancient masters – potters, jewellers and hunters. The rules of the game are dictated by the technical opportunities of the relevant epoch. So when making ‘Neolithic’ ceramics the children have to stick to certain methods of moulding which were introduced to them during the class. Some creative tasks are accompanied with relevant music.
The programme curriculum involves the teaching of one class per year not in the environment of the study class to which the children are accustomed but in the halls of the Hermitage Museum on the permanent exposition. Such an immersion into a real and size-wise different museum space brings new feelings: another sound of your own voice, strange steps and voices of the visitors etc. During the classes taught in the halls replicas brought from the class are used to help the children (especially the blind and visually impaired children) to remember the studied material.
The development of the Past at the Fingertips programme began in January 2005 and since January 2006 systematic classes have been taught. The creation of the programme became possible due to the longstanding collaboration of the State Hermitage Museum with St. Petersburg boarding schools for the blind and visually impaired children (Boarding school N1 named after Konstantin Karlovich Grot and Boarding School N2).
Over 340 classes were given for 442 pupils since the beginning of the project. Today the archaeological classes are being attended by the pupils of the two above mentioned schools as well as the pupils of the boarding school for blind and visually impaired in Mga.
Depending on the audience the terms and the content of the Past at the Fingertips programme can be corrected for other age groups.
The programme is conducted with the support of the Hermitage Fund (USA), Kennedy Centre International Committee on the Arts (USA), JSC Imperial Porcelain Factory, Novy Metsenat Magazine and LLC OMS-SPb. The title sponsor of the programme is LLC Heineken United Breweries. The sponsors are JSC Hlebny Dom, FAZER group, Russia chocolate factory and CJSC CafeMax St. Petersburg. The partner of the project is The World Club of Petersburgers.